The famed “red line” warning that Barack Obama issued in August 2013 to Bashar al-Assad of Syria was arguably the defining foreign policy moment of his presidency: an unequivocal warning to a rogue leader to desist from war crimes or pay the price.
When the incident ended in a blur, with Russian-backed promises that the Assad regime would hand over its chemical agents, responses were bifurcated. The president and his allies hailed this as a monument of diplomacy, whereby a plausible threat led bloodlessly to a major improvement in behavior.
In contrast, critics presented Obama as a paper tiger who raged with threats that collapsed when offered meaningless assurances by a well-established liar.
For two years, there was no verdict; the two sides kept making their points without closure. But now, closure is at hand.
That’s because there are now multiple reports of the Assad regime using chlorine in barrel bombs, plus the discovery of traces of ricin, sarin and VX. In response, the U.S. government has done nothing about these hideous developments other than issue mild rebukes, turn to the feckless United Nations, and hope against hope that the Russians and even the Iranians would dispose of the problem. No mention of red lines this time, just a wish no one would remember 2013.
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